As we race towards the release of STALKER 2, it’s fair to say the gaming community has been clamouring to the adventure radiated town of Pripyat for a long time. With it being over a decade since the last entry into the STALKER series, Chernobylite has taken to bringing fans back to Ukraine’s most infamous building. Leaning into themes of both isolation and the supernatural, The Farm 51 attempts to bring the horror of the Exclusion Zone back to the forefront.
When researching the game before beginning this review, it was clear to see Chernobylite was an ambitious project. Even after a few hours of play time, the scope of the game still felt phenomenal. At times, especially in the early stages, it felt daunting as there were so many elements to take in and understand. It won’t be for everyone, and I issue a stark warning for those who come into this game expecting STALKER 2. It isn’t that, nor is it close to being that. However, that isn’t a bad thing, Chernobylite suffers from the ease of comparison between the two games. Despite how easy it would be for The Farm 51 to create a shallow take on the STALKER series, they actually do a great job making this experience feel different.
That experience is a unique blend, almost as if someone had smashed This War Is Mine and Escape From Tarkov together into one nuclear cocktail. It’s not perfect, but it stands alone by mixing and matching various elements. You have the expected survival mechanics, in addition base building, crafting, resource and people management. There’s even a branching story which allows each playthrough to be different to the ones prior.
Despite standing out from the pack, sadly I find Chernobylite to be too crowded with systems. No part of this game is awful, but everything feels like it could have been pushed further. Maybe if one or two things were cut, those resources could have been put into rounding out other parts of the game. I found the people management to be tedious, where the player is asked to ration food to improve the health and morale of the partners. Never did I find myself struggling to stuff the faces of those around me, at some point it felt like we could feast like royalty every day.
Crafting and base building also feels undercooked. Again, it’s not bad, it’s just missing something that really makes it tick. Gun modding is simple, allowing players to make incremental improvements to weapons when returning to base. Improvements to the base all feel wedged in, as you spend your time decreasing radiation or improving people's comfort. It all feels trivial, content for the sake of more content.
The story is a linear experience, albeit a good one. I never really got the impression that there was non-linear storytelling in my first playthrough, or the early parts of my second. Changing responses, or even doing things different didn’t seem to alter the main plot points. Despite it’s linear state, the story is a good one, definitely one of the better narratives of 2021. Although it’s disappointing, as a more open story experience was promised. I think delivering linear, key plot points made for a stronger consistency throughout the narrative, leading to a better experience all round.
My highlight throughout the game was actually exploring the world. All the natural flora blooming around the player made for a scenic world to tiptoe around, and the buildings could be quite atmospheric at times. I didn’t personally find the game to be scary, however there were parts of the environment that offered moments that made me feel uneasy. In honesty, the environmental storytelling throughout Chernobylite was fantastic. There are plenty of little things that would occur naturally, making me want to sieve through every building to see what I could find.
Part of the success of Chernobylite’s environments is thanks to the 3D scanning of the area itself. Using drones and other various equipment, The Farm 51 were able to recreate both Chernobyl and Pripyat with a terrifying degree of accuracy. Scanning isn’t limited to aerial shots of the city either, the buildings and their inside decal are all scanned, allowing us to experience arguably the best representation of the exclusion zone in the history of videogames. That attention to detail clawed me back into Chernobylite more than any collection of features ever did.
Throughout the world, you will encounter some nasties looking to make your life difficult. For the most part, the combat is adequate, with a headshot or a couple of body shots putting most things down. Upgraded weapons makes everything easier, but if your accuracy is good, the early game shootouts shouldn’t cause too much difficulty. Stealth can be a bit hit and miss, as often I feel like enemies are able to see me through solid surfaces. In addition, the stealth takedown animations are needlessly long. I often found myself getting caught because the main character insisted on stabbing their target at least five times. The knife itself seems broken, as crouching and circling an enemy whilst slashing at them appears to be a flawless method of attack.
Chernobylite is a frustrating game. It’s far from unenjoyable, but there was so much potential here for something greater. At its core, it’s a fantastic recreation of Chernobyl that’s inundated with mechanics that aren’t required to enjoy this game. The Farm 51 nail atmosphere and the world, yet never seemed satisfied with what they actually wanted the game to be. It doesn’t ruin the overall experience for Chernobylite, which manages to hit the goalpost of greatness before rebounding into the net of mediocrity.
Chernobylite (Reviewed on Windows)
Game is enjoyable, outweighing the issues there may be.
The Farm 51 understood everything about the setting of Cherobylite, which the nail incredibly. Sadly, their inability to stick to a solid gameplay plan means the overall experience is bloated with pointless systems which just pull the whole experience down a level.